The unions are and will remain one of the most important mass organisations of the working class in the struggle against capitalist attacks. This is true despite the fact that the unions have massively lost members worldwide. The average percentage of union members of all wage earners declined in the industrialised countries (OECD) between 1978 - 2010 from 34% to 18.1%. This general decline of unions did not just happen in the "old" capitalist countries in Europe, North America and Japan, but also in a number of emerging industrialised semi-colonies.
The main reason for this lies not in objective developments. The working class and its industrial core layers do not decline world-wide, but rather get bigger. Likewise, it is also a myth that the proletariat is employed in fewer and fewer large enterprises and increasingly in smaller enterprises. Still less is it true to think that the workers would have lost their spirit of resistance. The numerous protest movements against capitalist globalisation, the war and the crisis from the early 2000s until today, the Arab revolution, the August uprising in Britain in 2011 and the rapidly rising curve of strikes in the factories of China - all this is proof enough how broad and deep seated is the hatred for the rulers.
No, the real cause for this decline is to be found in the complete bankruptcy of the union bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is an aloof, striving for privileges and posts, caste (detached layer in society). Its goal is to preserve and expand their share of the capitalist trough. To this end, it binds itself to the bourgeois state apparatus, and often even merges with it. Likewise, they must find a compromise with the capitalists and therefore adapt to the pressure of this.
However, it is also exposed to a different pressure - that of the rank and file. If the bureaucracy sees no way to suppress this pressure, then it is forced to take actions and to lead strikes. But the bureaucracy always pays attention to control the trade unions and to limit and suppress as much as possible independent grassroots initiatives.
Moreover, the unions rely to a high degree on the upper, better-paid sections of the proletariat, and in particular on the labour aristocracy. The broad mass of our class and in particular the lower strata, however, are more or less neither organised nor represented by the union.
However, it would be fundamentally wrong to draw the conclusion that one should ignore the existing unions. The Bolsheviks-Communists reject such an ultra-left nonsense. The bureaucracy is not beaten by sectarian standing aside (separate from the union), but by the struggle for democratic, militant trade unions which are independent of state and capital. This struggle must be carried out wherever possible within the unions – regardless of the inevitable attempts by the bureaucracy to pursue the revolutionaries and expel them.
In the centre of the work within the unions stands the building of a rank and file movement. Such a rank and file movement has the goal to liberate the union from its dependence on the state and capital and to drive the bureaucracy out of the union.
The struggle to build a rank and file movement – which represents a united front with non-revolutionary workers – is not in contradiction with the necessary construction of communist factions in the union. On the contrary, the task of the communists is precisely to gain access to and win the confidence of non-revolutionary workers. The united front work in the rank and file movement and in the unions in general, therefore, goes hand in hand with the struggle for gaining broad support and, finally, winning over the trade union as a revolutionary leadership with a revolutionary programme.
The unionisation of the lower strata of the working class (especially the immigrants, women, precarious workers, etc.) is an indispensable task. These layers must not, therefore, play the role of the infantry in the union, but should play a central role and should also proportionally be represented in the trade union bodies according to their share among the employees.
The workers vanguard should not make a fetish out of union unity. Where the establishment of new unions makes sense because of the deep discrediting of the old trade unions, socialists will support such a step without reservation. Examples for this include the formation of the KCTU in Korea after the overthrow of the dictatorship in the late 1980s or the establishment of independent unions in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak's 2011. Sharp shocks through the class struggle can both cause new room for manoeuvring and radicalisation in the old trade unions (e.g. the UGTT 2011 in Tunisia) as well as lead to the creation of new unions. Bolshevik-Communists employ a tactical approach to this question but on the basis of a clear principle: seeking the unity of the union as long as possible as it serves the advancing of the struggle for the independence of the working class from the state, capital and bureaucracy; not being afraid of splitting or the formation of new unions if splitting does not lead to self-isolation of the revolutionaries, but allows the organising of large sections of the working class at a higher level of class independence.